PATRISTICS/ Gregory Palamas
Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessaloniki known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. He is venerated as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Though he is not widely venerated in the Roman Catholic Church he is recognized as a saint; Palamas is liturgically commemorated by the Melkite Greek Catholic, and Eastern Churches, who are in communion with Rome. Some of his writings are collected in the Philokalia. The second Sunday of the Great Lent is called the Sunday of Gregory Palamas in those Churches that commemorate him according to the Byzantine Rite. He also has a feast day on November 14.
Gregory was born in Constantinople in the year 1296. His father was a courtier of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328), but he soon died, and the Emperor himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy. The Emperor had hoped that the gifted Gregory would devote himself to government service. St Gregory received his secular philosophical training from Theodore Metochites. But Gregory, later barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 and became a novice there in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder St Nicodemos of Vatopedi. Eventually, he was tonsured a monk, and continued his life of asceticism. After the demise of the Elder Nicodemus, Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle under the guidance of a new Elder, Nicephorus. After this last Elder's repose, Gregory transferred to the Great Lavra of St. Athanasius the Athonite on Mount Athos, where he served the brethren in the trapeza (refectory) and in church as a cantor. Wishing to devote himself more fully to prayer and asceticism he entered a skete called Glossia, where he taught the ancient practice of mental prayer known as "prayer of the heart" or Hesychasm.
In 1326, because of the threat of Turkish invasions, he and the brethren retreated to the defended city of Thessaloniki, where he was then ordained a priest. Dividing his time between his ministry to the people and his pursuit of spiritual perfection, he founded a small community of hermits near Thessaloniki in a place called Veria.
THE HESYCHAST CONTROVERSY
Gregory was initially asked by his fellow monks on Mount Athos to defend them from the charges of Barlaam of Calabria. Addressing the question of how it is possible for man to have knowledge of a transcendent and unknowable God, he drew a distinction between knowing God in his essence (Greek ousia) and knowing God in his energies (Greek energeiai). He maintained the Orthodox doctrine that it remains impossible to know God in His essence (to know who God is in and of Himself), but possible to know God in His energies (to know what God does, and who He is in relation to the creation and to man), as God reveals himself to humanity. In doing so, he made reference to the Cappadocian Fathers and other earlier Christian writers and Church fathers. Gregory further asserted that when Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, that they were in fact seeing the uncreated light of God; and that it is possible for others to be granted to see that same uncreated light of God with the help of certain spiritual disciplines and contemplative prayer, although not in any automatic or mechanistic fashion.
In 1351 the Council of Blachernae solemnly upheld the Orthodoxy of his teachings.
Gregory's opponents in the Hesychast controversy spread slanderous accusations against him, and in 1344 Patriarch John XIV imprisoned him for four years. However, in 1347 when Patriarch Isidore came to the Ecumenical Throne, Gregory was released from prison and consecrated as the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki. However, since the conflict with Barlaam had not been settled at that point, the people of Thessalonika did not accept him, and he was forced to live in a number of places. Once, during a voyage to Constantinople, the ship he was in fell into the hands of Turkish pirates, and he was imprisoned, beaten and held for ransom. Eventually his ransom was paid and he returned to Thessaloniki, where he served as Archbishop for the last three years of his life. St. Gregory Palamas reposed on November 14, 1359. His dying words were, "To the heights! To the heights!"
One of his disciples was Nilos Cabasilas, later archbishop of Thessaloniki.
He was canonized a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1368 by Patriarch Philotheos of Constantinople, who also wrote his Vita and composed the service which is chanted in his honour. His feast day is celebrated twice a year on November 14, the anniversary of his death, and on the Second Sunday of Great Lent. The reason for his commemoration on the Second Sunday of Great Lent is because Gregory's victory over Barlaam is seen as a continuation of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (i.e., the victory of the Church over heresy) which was celebrated the previous Sunday.